A Perceived Front-Runner Joins the Race

NYT FDMaggie Haberman 7/13/2015

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Good Monday morning from Washington, where negotiators have expressed optimism over a nuclear deal with Iran, and where Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is taking it a day at a time after the death of his son Beau. But the campaign trail is preparing for another Republican candidate as Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, fresh off signing a contentious state budget, makes an announcement.

After months of political flirtation, Mr. Walker became the latest entrant into a crowded Republican presidential field, hoping to build on his current lead in Iowa polling with a strong campaign kickoff that started with a campaign video on Monday morning announcing his run.

It’s a moment that has been in the making since 2010, when Mr. Walker emerged among a class of Republican governors elected amid a wave of Tea Party anger. He made a national name as a union-buster and was a top target of organized labor in an attempted recall election, which he survived. He has used those races and his re-election in 2014 as selling points to a coastal donor class that remains skeptical of his ability to go the distance.

Mr. Walker has a working-class background and Midwestern appeal, combined with Tea Party credibility, and he impressed many on the right with a strong speech at an Iowa forum in January. But since then, he has stumbled, appearing out of his depth on matters of foreign policy. He infuriated proponents of same-sex marriage in the Republican donor community after the Supreme Court ruled in their favor, by calling for a constitutional amendment allowing the states to decide the issue for themselves.

And he has drawn the most concern among establishment Republicans for his shift on overhauling immigration, from supporting to opposing a legal path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally. He’s taken time over the last several months to study up on national security and foreign policy.

He appears to have a solid position in polls in neighbor-state Iowa, where the 2016 caucuses will most likely require a low plurality for a win, given the number of candidates. But he will need to use the coming weeks to show he can expand beyond that early state.